SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Dorothea Puente, a Sacramento woman convicted of killing her tenants and burying them in her backyard, died Sunday at age 82 at a women's prison in California. 450.
Puente died of natural causes at the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla, state corrections officials said.
She was a sweet-looking, grandmotherly woman who ran a boardinghouse out of a rented two-story Victorian. She began the business in 1980, renting out the top floor, but was sent to prison for three years for drugging her elderly tenants and stealing checks from them.
She was back in business by 1985, renting the entire house and offering rooms to elderly and disabled residents, some of whom she met while cruising bars.
The case broke open in 1988, after social worker Judy Moise convinced police something was wrong. Moise, who worked for Volunteers of America, had referred Alvaro "Bert" Montoya, a 51-year-old mentally impaired homeless man, to stay at the boardinghouse, where Puente was known for lavishing her tenants with gifts and home-cooked meals.
Montoya disappeared after a few months, and Moise filed a missing persons report on Nov. 7, 1988, with Sacramento police. When an officer went to question Puente at her home, a tenant slipped him a note saying Puente had asked him to lie.
Four days later, two homicide detectives showed up with Puente's federal parole agent and some shovels. In the backyard, they unearthed what turned out to be a leg bone belonging to 78-year-old Leona Carpenter. Eventually, seven bodies would be removed from the grounds.
But on the second day of digging, as police were discovering a second body, Puente strolled away from the home carrying $3,000 in cash. A few days later, she was recognized in a Los Angeles bar and arrested. During the flight back to Sacramento, she told a police reporter, "I have not killed anyone."
A jury later disagreed. Nine deaths occurred at Puente's Victorian home in downtown Sacramento. The Sacramento Bee reported seven bodies were found buried in Puente's gardens, one was dumped in a makeshift coffin on a Sacramento River levee and one was thought to be a suicide. Puente was tried in Monterey County on the nine murder counts because of massive publicity in Sacramento.
Evidence showed she drugged her tenants and had cashed at least 60 government assistance checks. After nearly five months of trial that included 156 witnesses, Puente was convicted of murdering three tenants and sentenced to life. The six other counts ended with the jury deadlocked. Those counts were dismissed after a judge declared a mistrial. Puente, who never took the stand, was sent to the prison in Chowchilla.
Contact Sam Stanton at email@example.com.
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